Dr. Sova Isazåzus, née Teskoš
The ship was The Nonesuch, and was setting out on an unprecedented journey to try to find a route to the Khanty Sea, on the other side of the continent. For most of history, the only way to get trade goods from the Valaran Empire to the Khanty Sea and vice versa was overland, due to a combination of impassible ice and shipbuilding technology not being advanced enough to undergo the journey. Captain Kal Isazåzus was to be the first to try to sail north, circle around Cuyania, and reach the sea by ship.
The woman was Sova Teskoš, a recently graduated anthropologist specializing in folklore. She had joined the expedition to work as the ship's cook in order to pay off her crippling student debt.
BackgroundSova was born in the small village of Teskoš. She was a Kaphya, an ethnic minority from southeast Valara. Kaphyan people still predominantly maintained their traditional lifestyle of hunting, herding, and subsistence farming. As a child, Sova spent many long winter nights listening to her grandmother tell stories of their ancestors. She frequently sat outside on freezing nights to gaze up at the southern lights, where she'd been told her ancestors danced. The captivating lights filled her mind with wonder at how vast and wondrous the world beyond the village must be.
Rall village during the summer months. Learning to read unlocked a voracious desire for knowledge that she would seek to satisfy for the rest of her life. When she was 12, she left her family to stay in school throughout the winter rather than return to their overwinter site.
This marked a turning point in her life; up until then, she had been a Kaphyan person living on the fringes of the Valaran Empire. Once she decided to prioritize studying in the permanent Rall town rather than winter with her people, she became a Valaran who happened to be an ethnic minority. At the time, she didn't see why this decision was such a big deal, but it was the reason her family was so devastated when they said goodbye to her at the end of autumn. Her parents could see that their daughter would never be satisfied with the simple life they could provide, and that they would inevitably lose her to the world.
At 18, she left Kaphyan territory completely to attend an academy in a city far from home. She was the only woman in the anthropology department, and made some enemies by still graduating at the top of her class. After completely her undergraduate degree, she transferred to the prestigious Valara Academy for a further 6 years of studying. She finished with a doctorate in anthropology specializing in folklore and a mountain of debt. When she saw an advertisement to join a crew on a daring voyage to the other side of the world, she signed up in a heartbeat. There were other, less reckless, avenues to paying off her debt, but this one offered her the chance of seeing the world she'd only ever read about.
The world is about 5,000 years old.
The Cataclysm was a freak geological event.
The Tower of Origins is a children's story.
These things we know to be true.
The First Voyage of The Nonesuch
All things considered, I think today went well. It seems the sailors are not expecting gourmet food, which is good because I can provide only the basics. This is definitely a different sort of career than I was expecting after how many degrees I've earned....
Northward BoundThe Nonesuch sailed north. For about two months, they travelled north along Cuyania's eastern coast. During this time, Sova demonstrated the other reason she'd been hired, which was her linguistic ability. Though she was far from fluent in them all, she knew enough of most major languages in the south to communicate with locals when they made port.
As much as Sova enjoyed sailing, it was the pit-stops along the way she truly loved. A folklorist at heart, she couldn't pass up the opportunity to learn new mythologies so far from home.
At first, the voyage got progressively nicer. They sailed away from the cold southern waters and into the lush, tropical seas around the equator. They lingered at ports to take in the exotic new sights. Sova spent long nights sitting on outdoor terraces with spiced drinks she'd never heard of, sharing stories with Captain Kal and other sailors. At times, they pulled out maps. It was unnerving to see the detailed coastlines in the middle of the world gradually fade out into blank unknowns in the far north. They were following a route no one had made before, but on a hot and humid night, faces warm from alcohol, icebergs and frozen seas seemed so very far away.
There are many similar myths in the south. Kaphya stories of the The Winged Crone are very similar to Dàni stories of the same. Because we are so geographically close, this is not a surprise. But how do we explain the persistence of the tale on the opposite end of the world? So many details are alike - the wings, the robe, the behaviour. The same can be said of the Fairy Girl or the Phantom Man. How do we explain these similarities? That all three mysterious figures from my own folklore re-appear so far away? Is it possible that there is a historical basis for them?One other important thing she was shown on Sitka Island was a mural in a crumble temple depicting the Cataclysm. But, the snow on the ground of this mural showed the disaster happening in the winter, but in this hemisphere, it would have been the height of summer when it struck.
Obviously, the locals said. This one only depicts the first catastrophe.
The Nonesuch became lodged in ice at the height of winter. Her wooden hull creaked and groaned as the ice squeezed her. Try as they might, the crew could not break the ice apart to get free.
They would be trapped until the return of summer, and there was no promise their supplies would last that long.
Day 176.After setting out to find help, Sova and Kal encountered a hunting party and returned to camp with them. They had reached the Land of Spirits, the continent at the top of the world. This in itself was a great discovery, because no one in the south had known that there was an entire landmass at the north pole.
It is obvious that we need help. We do not have enough food to last the winter. If we just sit here and wait for the ice to melp, The Nonesuch will become a tomb.
KalCaptain Isazåzus and I will be leaving tomorrow morning. There are people this far north; we've spotted them through the telescopes in the distance. They know how to live up here on the ice. Perhaps they can help us.
There was not just land up here, but an entire mountain range. Sova and Kal became the first southerners to lay eyes on The Spire and, at its peak, the Tower of Origins. The sheer height of the tower astounded them, as did the natives' explanation that it had been there since their ancestors first arrived thousands of generations ago.
...I thought Kal might have actually frozen for how long he stood there with a dumbstruck look on his handsome face (I mean, the captain - though he does keep insisting I call him Kal). Of course we had both grown up with the stories. A hero plays the drum at the top of the world to win fame and glory and save the world. I wrote a paper comparing that Kaphyan and Kivan versions of the story in my grad program. We never suspected it was true.
More than food and shelter, though, Sova got stories. The stories she got were not too dissimilar from stories she knew. Even at the opposite end of the world, they spoke of Spirits, a girl with a dog, and an old winged woman. How could these people know the same stories she'd learned in the frozen south? How could that tower have been built by Spirits, as the northerners claimed? How could there be stories about multiple Cataclysms, dating back to before the world even existed according to Valaran scholars?
It seemed that everything they thought they knew about the ancient world was wrong.
The Journey HomeThe Nonesuch did not make it to the Khanty Sea on their first expedition. When summer came, they thanked the northerners profusely for their hospitality but returned south rather than continue through the north. The trip south was more sombre than their initial voyage north, and they arrived back in Valara in low spirits. The expedition had failed; a route to Khanty had not been found.
Sova, however, was more than satisfied. The discoveries she made during the journey led to her writing a book titled The Wanderers: The Common Past That Unites Us All.
Further, her findings of a continent to the north and the Tower of Origins sent waves through academia, and furious debate erupted over who constructed it, how, and why. The existence of a mural depicting an earlier Cataclysm similarly shook the status quo. The expedition may have failed to reveal a sea-route to Khanty, but it had uncovered truths about the world no one had been ready for.
The world is more than 5,000 years old.
There have been two cataclysms.
The Tower of Origins was built by ancient humans.
These things we know to be true.
Subsequent Voyages]Sova's near-death in the frozen north did not dissuade her from leaving home again. In fact, it seemed to have unlocked her thirst for adventure. The royalties from her book on The Wanderers enabled her to pay off her student debt, but she signed on with Captain Isazåzus the next time he set sail.
After every voyage, she published a new book or submitted a new article and her work gradually earned the respect of her peers.
International RenownSova became the definitive expert on pre-Cataclysm history, known only through oral histories until she wrote them down. She travelled throughout the Panonic Ocean with The Nonesuch, and led expeditions overland as well. By identifying common trends in stories, and investigating old ruins and artwork, she postulated the following theories:
- The thee Wanderers are based on historic figures
- There have been a total of three cataclysms - she propose the term "reckonings" based on the widespread belief that they were judgement from gods. The first one was over 8,000 years ago
- The Tower of Origins is linked to Spirits somehow.
The world is about 10,000 years old.
There have been three Reckonings.
The Tower of Origins was built by ancient humans.
These things we know to be true.
Return to the NorthThe Nonesuch once more attempted to find a northern route to Khanty. Naturally, Sova joined the expedition, not the least because she had married Captain Isazåzus a few years earlier.
They stopped deliberately this time so that Sova could investigate the Tower of Origins up close. At the foot of the mountain, they were shocked to discover a staircase, seemingly build by human hands despite their northern guide claiming no knowledge of it. Even more shocking was what they saw when peering up its winding height.
...Kal took out his telescope to get a closer look, and then handed it to me. Through the telescope, I saw a clear humanoid shape of shimmering light. As I looked, it suddenly turned its head and fixed its gaze right at me. In shock, I dropped the telescope. When I looked back, it had vanished.
I don't know what else to make of this, but... I think we saw a Spirit.
SpiritsWhen Sova returned to Valara (after successfully reaching the Khanty Sea), she published another book: Spirits: The Reality of a Metaphysical World. Spirits, she contended, existed just as much as the Tower of Origins existed. In fact, based on where she'd seen one, it was entirely possible that the Tower was built by Spirits and not by humans at all.
Conference invitations dried up. Comments about this being the reason women weren't cut out for the arts were passed around. Some of her earlier ideas, such as the proposed literal existence of Strangers, went from being entertained to dismissed outright. It was one thing to claim to have seen a physical tower, and quite another to assert that magical beings of light float through the heavens.
The Final VoyageDetermined to prove her theories, Sova proposed one last voyage. She intended to travel north again, climb the mountain, and find the route to Spiritrest herself. She and Kal gathered a crew and The Nonesuch set sail once more.
The Tower of OriginsFollowing the path of their previous expeditions, Sova and Kal journeyed to the tower. This time, they were equipped to climb the staircase. It was a long, gruelling trek. Climbing the actual tower took almost as long as climbing the mountain, but at least they were now protected from the windchill.
Finally, they reached the highest room of the tower. It wasn't very large. There was no obvious doorway to Spiritrest, just a bronze drum sitting in the middle of the room. On a pedestal before it, a set of mallets.
Sova had never been more excited than when she saw the drum. She turned to me and said, "It's true, Kal. The stories were true!" I think she might have cried if it wasn't so cold.Once they had returned to the Valaran Empire, Kal reported that his wife had been murdered by a Spirit. The assumption was that she had died of hypothermia, or the cold, or some wild animal, and the shock had led the poor man to invent a wild story about magical ghosts.
"Go on. Play the drum. You're the one who led us here. You deserve it." I think about these words often, as I lie awake at night and feel how cold and empty the bed is. What if I hadn't said them? Would anything have changed? Only knowing how determined Sova was to uncover mysteries, with or without my provocation, helps me fall asleep again.
She picked up the mallets and turned them over in her hands. "How old these must be... and yet the wood hasn't rotted, just like the door far below. This is truly a magical place."
"Not so magical," I pointed out with a slight chuckle. "It appears something has chewed on that one." One of the mallets had small indentations on its wooden handle, like it had been gnawed on by a wolf. I can hardly imagine a wolf climbing up there, though. I still don't know what the source of the bite marks were, but I think Sova knew. Of course she did; she was always so clever.
Sova approached the drum. For a long moment, she stood before it and gazed at the patterns around its rim. I didn't get close enough to see them clearly, but they seemed to be pictographs of some sort. I waited impatiently to hear the sound of the drum and see how the world would change, but then the mallets fell from her fingers. They clunked dully on the stone floor.
"Sova?" I took a step toward her.
She turned to face me, her eyes wide and lips parted in that little gasp she makes when she's stumbled upon some revelation. "It's a trick," she breathed. "They want us to play the drum, promising fame and glory as a lure, but -"
The Spirit appeared in the blink of an eye. In another blink, it had shoved a blade through Sova's back. I can't write what else happened, because the images blur and freeze in my mind. I just stood there, frozen and useless. Could I have moved fast enough to save her if I hadn't panicked? By the time I came to my senses enough to run to her, my wife was dead.
Legacy]Sova left behind a complex legacy. Although many remember most vividly her fall from grace and "into the undignified realm of childish fancy", no one can deny the significant contributions she made to their understanding of the past. Her terminology - Reckonings, Wanderers, and Spiritrest - remain the most popular and widespread terms for these concepts even into the Fifth Age.
There are also those that believe she never lost her grip. Though her late-career work is often scoffed at, there are those who believe her assertions about Spirits. To them, the moment of her death, as recorded in the memoir written by her husband many years later, leaves behind the biggest mysteries. What had she realized about the drum? Why were Spirits so quick to silence her the moment she figured it out?
For all of recorded history, Spirits were looked upon as benevolent figures. They were the benefactors of heroes in old fairy tales and though they were always assumed to be mythical, they were always the good guys. The story of a person being murdered by one of them sent ripples through the world that became a wave. The idea that Spirits were treacherous or malevolent bled into stories. The veneration of Spirits gradually declined, and the wake of Sova's death saw a steady rise in converts to Adenism in Valara, which in turn led to the religion's dominance in Valaran society, the forced conversion of the Kivans, and the religious horrors that took place in Duken.
And then there were the explorers and researchers who couldn't stop wondering about what happened at the tower. They shared the same hunger for the world that had driven Sova to the north, and followed in her footsteps to learn the truth. The most significant of these was a small party from the Khanty Sea, that headed north with the intention of finding why she died. Six months after their expedition set out, the Fourth Reckoning rocked the world. Some think it was bad luck, and the Reckoning wiped out their expedition. Some think they got even closer to the truth than Sova did, and the Spirits brought down the Reckoning as a punishment.
To find out just what happened, another explorer will have to follow Sova's tracks to the north.
The world is about 10,000 years old.
There have been four Reckonings.
The Tower of Origins has something to do with Spirits.
If Spirits do exist, we must be cautious of their hidden agenda.
We... think we know these things to be true.
Stories are like pearls. They are beautiful and have entranced us since our earliest days. Pearls are actually a shining case wrapped around a grain of sand that slipped inside the oyster's shell. If you strip away a story's layers, you find a different kind of grain: truth. When historical records fail us, sometimes the best way to glimpse into the past is to peel away the layers of myth to find whatever grain of truth is at its heart.
In Valara, we see ourselves as the the pinnacle of civilization. This perception is wrong. Our world is older, larger, and more full of wonder than any of us have previously imagined.